Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 8 / 22 February 2018

New life at the Empire Plush Room


Venerable cabaret venue lines up big talents for new season

Mary Wilson, coming to the Empire Plush Room.
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Unbeknownst to its habitues, the future of the Empire Plush Room, considered one of the best cabaret clubs in the country, was in serious jeopardy. The venerable venue was losing so much money that the management of the York Hotel considered closing the room and renting it out for private parties. Instead, they called Rory Paul and Robert Kotonly of Rrazz Productions. Known as producers and promoters of concerts and comedy in New York and New Jersey, Rrazz is familiar locally for having produced a series of solo shows at the Alcazar Theater: Donna McKechnie's Inside the Music, Bea Arthur's pre-Broadway version of And Then There's Bea, as well as Sandra Bernhard. Paul and Kotonly immediately seized the opportunity to book the San Francisco room, and their fall lineup reveals their new vision for the Plush Room, in which they "want to change the mix a little bit, bring new life into the lineup.''

Paul recognized that the intimate 100-seat room was "rich in history, a beautiful room, and beautiful-sounding, but it needed to stand out more, it wasn't visible enough."

"We knew we had to make changes in the programming, become more present, take out more advertising," echoes Kotony. In an attempt to reverse the financial problems, Rrazz asked some locally-based, big-name stars to "make a concession to keep the room alive." Plush Room perennial Rita Moreno obliged, selling out her new show, Between Love and Fascination. Jazz diva Paula West also agreed, and from January 24 through March 4, 2006, will celebrate the 10-year anniversary of her first Plush Room appearance.

Rrazz's first season began disappointingly with Linda Lavin, but is back on track after Moreno's success. Now appearing is Debby Boone (through October 29), easy to ridicule for being Pat Boone's daughter, for her Grammy-award winning 1977 hit "You Light Up My Life" and for her "contemporary Christian" music albums. Married to Gabriel Ferrer, son of the actor Jose Ferrer and singer Rosemary Clooney, Boone wowed the audience at the most recent Help is On the Way Richmond-Ermet AIDS benefit. With Reflections of Rosemary, Boone switches gears, using her mother-in-law's original arrangements and musical director, John Oddo. Boone's versions of such standards as "Blue Skies," "Mood Indigo" and "Time After Time," heard on her debut Concord Records release, easily evoke the smoky sexiness of the original "girl singer."

High profiles


Coming soon: Lorna Luft.
wing Boone is the founding member of the Supremes, Mary Wilson. The only member who performed with the 60s girl group from the beginning to the end, Wilson will be Up Close November 29 through December 11. After a career spanning more than 35 years in show business, Lorna Luft will perform (December 27-31; January 4-8) Songs My Mother Taught Me, which recently delighted Judy Garland fans in London's West End. In contrast, Jody Watley, the versatile international fashion figure and songstress, will bring in a new show (January 19-21) featuring a remix of her 1987 debut single, "Looking for a New Love." Also slated this spring are Susan Anton and Angie Dickinson's cabaret world debut. Still in negotiation is an appearance by Megan Mullally; best known as Karen Walker on Will & Grace, she is also a "show-stopping concert artist with a stunning vocal range and an intriguingly quirky choice of song."

Paul and Kotonly are also bringing in comedy, starting with Bruce Vilanch's Almost Famous (November 8-20), in which the witty Hollywood writer and performer, having portrayed Edna Turnblad in Hairspray, exposes his "encounters with the glamorous, ego-driven, pansexual denizens of Tinsel Town." On New Year's Eve at the Alcazar, stand-up star Kathy Griffin will dish out her brand of uninhibited comedy. On March 16-19, 2006, the incomparable Kate Clinton will bring in her 25th anniversary tour, and local Latina lesbian legend Marga Gomez is also on the upcoming schedule.

Continuing a Plush Room tradition, Kotony and Paul plan to feature local entertainers for "one and two night engagements." Spencer Day returns to the Plush November 4 & 5 in an Artists Against AIDS fundraiser, and Linda Kosut will celebrate her 20 years in cabaret with In My Own Kind of Hat on November 20. As Rrazz strives to ensure high-quality shows, Kotony and Paul pledge to refine the mix of classic and contemporary concerts, cabaret and comedy. These East Coast producers sound sincerely committed to preserving the heritage of our beloved Empire Plush Room. Info:

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